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Comparing 'Digging', `Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’ and `The Road Not Taken’

Updated on July 8, 2011

Discuss how the poets Seamus Heaney and Robert Frost have explored the themes of choice and decision making in at least two of the poems you have studied.

Instead of looking at life as a narrowing funnel, we can see it ever widening to

choose the things we want to do, to take the wisdom we’ve learned and create

something (Liz Carpenter). Decisions always involve deliberating two or more choices

and in some cases people are regretful of the choice they settled on. The poems.

`Digging’, `Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’ and `The Road Not Taken’ all

involve choices that had to be made, reflecting choices that had to be made in the

respective poet’s life. I am going to discuss the theme of choice in these three poems.

Seamus Heaney is an Irish poet, writer and lecturer who was awarded the Nobel

Prize in Literature in 1995. His poetry observed the small details of everyday life and

of his local surroundings. In the poem, `Digging’ he talks about the decision in his life

to become a writer when the easier option was to become a farmer.

Another award winner, Robert Frost was an American poet famous for his

bittersweet, ironic, comforting and observant poetry. The poem, `The road not taken’

was inspired by his friend’s unusual mannerism to take a route through the countryside

that would lead them to an unusual plant when on a long walk. His friend would then

regret his decision near the end of the walk as he might have found something better in

another direction. He is also the author of `Stopping by the woods on a snowy


The poem `Digging’ is written in nine stanzas that vary in number of lines. There is a

regular increase in the number of lines in the first four stanzas. This is followed by

irregularity in number of lines. This perhaps represents how his memories at first are

easily remembered but begin to stutter as he tries to remember more. Conversely In

`Stopping by the woods…’ there is a rigid four lines to each stanza with each line

having four iambic feet. `The road not taken’ also contrasts by having rigid five line


In Heaney’s poem the title is very blunt. It is only after reading the poem we see the

meaning of the poem; that Heaney digs in a separate way from his father and

grandfather, `My grandfather cut more turf in a day’, `My father… Till his straining

rump among the flowerbeds’ and `The squat pen rests. I'll dig with it.’ We see here

that Heaney feels he is different from them, `But I've no spade to follow men like

them,’ as he is a writer not a farmer. This shows the decision Heaney had to make;

whether to follow in his father’s footsteps or follow his interest in writing instead.

On the other hand, In `The Road not taken’ the title is much more clear as to the

meaning of the poem. Frost ponders upon how life would have differed had he taken

another path.

In `Digging’ Heaney uses a metaphor in the first stanza, `As snug as a gun,’ to show

that he is as suited to write as his father is suited to digging, `His course boot nestled

on the lug’. The words `snug’ and `nestled’ show similarity between the two. Heaney

also uses alliteration, `the spade sinks into gravely ground’ and `going down and

down…digging.’ There is a repetition of the `d ’ and `g’ sounds to emphasise the

theme of digging. Onomatopoeia is also used, `Squelch… slap, these words help the

reader visualise the poem. This poem is similar to `Stopping by the woods,’ which also

uses alliteration, `watch his woods,’ `sound’s the sweep’ and `dark and deep’ but the

metaphors are less clear as to their meanings. Are the woods symbolic of death or do

they simply represent the allure of nature compared to the responsibilities of human

society. `The road not taken’ does not use alliteration but uses, `Two roads diverged in

a yellow wood’ as a metaphor for a decision. Frost also uses an onomatopoeic `sigh’

to emphasise the downheartedness over his decision. It also helps the reader emphasise

with him.

Seamus Heaney uses no consistent rhyme scheme in `Digging’, only a few rhyming

words, `Thumb’ and gun’. In contrast, `The Road not taken’ has a regular rhyme

scheme throughout the poem of ABAAB in each stanza. Also contrasting with

Heaney‘s poem is `Stopping by Woods…’ which follows a regular rhyme. Each verse

(except the last) follows an a-a-b-a rhyme scheme, with the following verse's A's

rhyming with that verse's B. Overall, the rhyme scheme is AABA-BBCB-CCDC-

DDDD. These regular rhymes help the poem flow and make it easier to read.

In conclusion I feel that the theme of choice is well shown in the three poems through

the different metaphors and other techniques used to show this.


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